How a NY school catering to medically vulnerable children stayed open through the pandemic

Reopening Schools

After months of closures, schools around the nation are gearing up for reopening, but one school is ahead of many of the rest.

Just outside New York City, Mount Pleasant Blythedale Union Free School District educates some of the region’s most vulnerable and medically complex kids, and it has managed to stay open for in-person learning throughout a majority of the pandemic.  

The mother of 5-year-old Bronx boy Oliver Martinez credits her son’s improvement to Mount Pleasant Blythedale School in Westchester Coounty.

Oliver has a chronic kidney disease. His only way of nourishment and survival has been through a feeding tube.

“For this kind of kid, they need a lot of attention, especially for therapy,” said Oliver’s mom, Melissa Fernandez. “It’s necessary kids go to school.”

When the pandemic broke out, Fernandez feared her son’s growth would be jeopardized.

“I don’t know what I would do if my son stayed home all the time, because maybe his progress would be less,” said Fernandez.

Instead of shutting their doors, like a majority of schools throughout the region, Blythedale remained open for eight months straight.

Oliver and kids like him thrived thrived.

Blythedale Chief Medical Officer Dr. Scott Klein said the hospital and school collaborated and redesigned the learning model to include strict pandemic measures, including social distancing, enhanced cleaning protocols and health screenings.

“We are able to take the knowledge of our teachers, but we also have doctors and nurses that are everyday keeping our children safe and applying to what we learned about that to how they learn in school,” said Dr. Klein.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Emily Hersh said: “Our kids because they’re so medically fragile are isolated to begin with and to get them back to an in person program…
With students who can go to school with their friends and be typical so it was critical to get kids to provide that comprehensive program unlike anything else.”

More than 200 students along with 54 teachers from the region benefited from the in-person learning.

As COVID cases grew around the world, Blythedale never had to close for virus exposure, and it had very few positive cases.

Oliver’s now taking some time away from the classroom for Spring Break, then he’ll finish out the season in person, happy and healthy.

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